Rural and Islands Report: 2023 - An Insights Report

Research output: Book/Report/Policy Brief/Technical BriefResearch report


There is a limited evidence base on the makeup and drivers of change in our rural and island communities and economies. This report is the first of an annual series of reports stemming from research funded by the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme 2022-27, that aims to provide novel insights on Scotland’s rural and island economies and communities. This new lens is particularly timely, with our First Minister, Humza Yousaf, and his cabinet recently committing to a Rural Delivery Plan and a Remote, Rural and Island Housing Action Plan by 2026.

We firstly reviewed rural and island policy to see how it has evolved over time. We also scanned a wide variety of data sources to help provide statistics that could help us provide insights into the specific characteristics of, and issues faced by, rural and island economies and communities. As a starting point we extended the Scottish Government Urban Rural classification to provide a more nuanced lens with which to highlight specific challenges facing our islands and very remote mainland regions.

We found that our rural and island economies and communities are incredibly diverse, and issues faced in one locality are not always the same in the next. Whilst not universal, on average we found that very remote mainland areas, as well as islands, are faced with some of the most significant demographic challenges: – slow population growth; ageing populations; fewer young children that lead to a long-term shrinking of the economic base; high levels of vacant and second home ownership; affordable housing concerns from locals; higher fuel prices; etc. In accessible parts of Scotland there has been rapid population growth, leading to a growth in housing developments and pressures on local services.

We believe the new Novel Insights on Scotland’s rural and island economies (NISRIE) peripherality classification offers a more nuanced lens with which to monitor communities and economies of our islands and very remote mainland areas, which share similar traits. There would be benefits for the Scottish Government in adapting such a classification to improve the evidence base that is vital to deliver the Rural Delivery Plan. Our research re-emphasises the diversity of economic activity, demographic change and pressure, as well as economic infrastructure challenges (e.g. transport, affordable housing) faced by rural and island communities. This heterogeneity points to a need for greater emphasis on place-based policy, or indeed extending the legislative requirements for Island Community Impact Assessments into our remote and very remote mainland communities.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages111
Publication statusPrint publication - Aug 2023


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